The Myth of Billy Squier and “Rock Me Tonite”

It is a music video that does not hold up well – if you haven’t seen it recently, click herebut did the “Rock Me Tonite” video in fact destroy Billy Squier’s popularity? That’s a common belief:

But the evidence suggests otherwise. It is hard to imagine how that video could have helped Squier’s career, yet somehow it seemed to.

After passing muster with Squier, his agents, and record-company management – any of whom could have killed the video if they had chosen to – the video was released in mid-July of 1984, as an MTV World Premiere.

At that time, MTV was the single most influential and popular music outlet in the nation. With this video in high-rotation on MTV, “Rock Me Tonite” became Squier’s biggest hit ever, spending 16 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbing to #15 in September of 1984.

Only many months later – in November of 1984 – did Squier voice displeasure with the video, as he attempted to explain flagging ticket sales for his latest tour. The video and the song had been a success. The rest of the album, not so much, and Squier’s short, improbable run of relative success as a pop artist began its inevitable, and fairly swift, decline.

Meanwhile, Squier’s complaints took an ugly turn. He tried to pin the look of the video on the sexual orientation of director Kenny Ortega.

I mean look, Kenny is gay. And this is the way he saw me. He abused my trust, I really feel that. He did not do what he said he would do. – Billy Squier

Ortega blames Squier for the video. Before the video was released, Ortega was so unhappy with the final product that he insisted on having his name taken out of the credits. Squier went ahead with the video anyway.

Let there be no doubt, ‘Rock Me Tonite’ was a Billy Squier video in every sense. – Kenny Ortega

None of this really matters because the issue at hand – the fall of Billy Squier’s career – requires no explanation. Billy Squier had a good run. Then seemingly all of America awoke one morning and decided they were sick of Billy Squier. That makes Billy Squier like a host of other bands – Loverboy, the Tubes, Night Ranger, to name a few – that had similar (or greater) levels of success and then saw their popularity fade just as quickly. And unlike Squier, they have no “Rock Me Tonite” video to blame.

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